Years ago, having nothing better to do after work, I attended a “community conversation” hosted by a regional arts organization. The organizers sought input regarding an initiative that would assist artisans.
There wasn’t much to this event. Organizers told attendees what the organization wanted to do, and asked our opinion about the plans. We told them what we thought. They gave us cupcakes and punch. That was it. Pretty painless.
Through my participation in an activity that cost less than three hours of my time, I received a freelance writing assignment. A few months after the event, the organizers contacted me with a proposal. I had made a strong impression on them and they wanted me to write copy for the organization’s brochures.
The assignment was fun because it involved two of my favorite things – the arts, and the little corner of Virginia I call home. I aimed my marketing copy at an audience of painters, potters, blacksmiths, quilters, papermakers, and glassblowers. The call to action invited these creative types from 19 Virginia counties to join the organization for professional support and education. Beautifully designed, the brochures provided a lovely backdrop for my words. Best of all, I got paid to write!
The organizers’ satisfaction with my work led them to refer another organization to me. I received a paying writing assignment to create an annual report for a children’s advocacy center. This nonprofit group helped kids who were victims of neglect and abuse. Although the subject matter was challenging, I found the task rewarding. They used the annual report to attract funders so I felt that I was indirectly supporting at-risk children.
Practical thinkers might choose to describe these writing opportunities as a benefit of networking. Certainly, networking is a powerful tool in a writer’s toolbox. However, I’m a big believer in the power of serendipity. That evening, why didn’t I do what I typically would do at the end of the workday? Why didn’t I go home and park myself on the couch in front of the television?
For those of you who don’t want to leave your writing careers in the hands of the Fates, you can make strategic efforts to position yourselves for freelance opportunities. Look to your community.
There are many ways to start. Seek community meetings taking place in your hometown. You may find these posted on social media, covered in local news reports, or posted in community calendars on the Internet. They may be disguised as focus groups, town hall gatherings, public dialogues, or stakeholder discussions.
Besides attending meetings, you can volunteer with nonprofit organizations or local government agencies that support worthy causes. Examples of these include area agencies on aging, planning district agencies, children’s advocacy groups, food banks, environmental activism associations, and clubs like Kiwanis International, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and Lion’s Club International.
You have to do more than show up, though. If you’re an introvert like me, you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone, and talk to people. That’s what I did the evening that I impressed the artisan group organizers. If I had done what I’m inclined to do—sit in the back of the room with my mouth shut—I wouldn’t have received that writing assignment.
One of the best ways to use your free time is by contributing to the community in which you live. Whether it’s a one-off activity like that focus group I attended, or a repeating calendar commitment like working the weekend food distribution, this type of engagement benefits the community. It can feed the soul, and on occasion, can even lead to a paying writing job.
A college career coach by day, Neva Bryan is a writer all the time. More than 60 of her poems and short stories appear in literary journals, online magazines, and anthologies. She is the author of several novels and a children’s picture book, The Mystery of the Monster in Oxbow Lake. She has worked as a copywriter, a public relations director, an op-ed columnist, and a radio station movie reviewer. Neva lives in the mountains of Virginia with her husband and their dogs. Learn more at her website: NevaBryan.com
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